Sports

Wins by Falcon freshman wrestler best Cougars, places at tournament

It’s his first year wrestling and already Falcon freshman Steven Smith has a movie-like victory.

Smith pinned Lakewood’s Brenda Rivera in the 106-pound battle that put South Whidbey ahead for its first Cascade Conference victory.

It was a quick finish, too, as Smith got the pin in 1:42.

“I’m just so proud of that kid,” said Falcon wrestling coach Jim Thompson. “He’s got a fantastic attitude.”

“He had to win his match for us to win it.”

The win was well-savored by the Falcons, who narrowly lost to the Granite Falls Tigers last month. They only have three more conference matches this season against Cedarcrest on Jan. 12, Archbishop Murphy on Jan. 19 and Sultan on Jan. 26.

The Falcons’ coaches knew their wrestlers could win, they just needed to believe they could.

“I told the kids all week, ‘Just go do it,’” Thompson said.

In another surprising victory, Falcon senior Cameron Schille pinned the Cougars’ top grappler Nolan Bingman in three minutes. Schille has had success this season, but was bumped up a weight class to 145 after fellow senior Steve Sutton injured his ankle and is likely out for the season.

“That was a match that I didn’t know if we could win it,” Thompson said. “Cameron’s a really good wrestler, but that other kid is, too. For Cameron to go out there and pin the kid was just huge.”

That sparked a surge of wins for the Falcons. In the 160 match, Montana Johnson, a Falcon senior, pinned Nick Kragseth in 1:12.

Falcon junior Pat Monell (182) quickly pinned Carl Lunn in 1:30.

A pair of seniors claimed the last wins before Smith stole the show. Avery Buechner won the 195 in a 4-0 decision over Jeff Harrison, and Jerimiah Robey (220) pinned James Georgio in 2:27.

Smith stepped onto the mat and his coach saw the look on his face, determined and focused.

“I saw him in one match, and I saw that look,” Thompson said. “He’s got just a little attitude, and that’s really neat for a South Whidbey kid, which most don’t have. That look, ‘Yeah, I’m pretty dang good.’”

For the first-year grappler, Thompson credited Smith’s success to his attitude and ability to learn quickly. Whatever confidence Smith has, his inexperience may have helped him overcome big-match jitters last Friday.

“I think he was real nervous,” Thompson said. “I don’t think, being a freshman, he realized he had to win for us to win as a team.”

“He’s doing real well on his feet. He’s got a really good takedown, he’s finishing his shots.”

“He’s the one initiating the takedowns.”

Smith also finished in fifth place at the Cascade Christian wrestling tournament. He was one of five Falcons who won fifth place. Johnson (160), Robey (195), Monell (182) and sophomore Andy Madsen (138) each finished in fifth place out of 16 schools.

Three Falcons also took third place at the tournament in Puyallup on Saturday: sophomore Calvin Shimada (170), sophomore Kyrell Broyles (152) and Schille (138).

“They’re starting to apply in matches what we’re teaching them, and they’re seeing results,” Thompson said. “They’re showing me they can wrestle.”

Sutton was replaced with a couple of underclassmen, and Buechner missed the bus.

“You have to replace a senior with a freshman and a sophomore and it hurts,” Thompson said. “There’s no way around it.”

“(Buechner) could’ve won the tournament. I was hot all day thinking about that.”

The trip to Puyallup was a first for the Falcons, and one they’ll likely repeat next year. Thompson said being greeted as soon as they stepped off the bus was a great welcome after an early wakeup and a long trip. Volunteers, coaches, athletes and other Cascade Christian representatives shook the Falcons’ hands and said good morning when they arrived at the school.

South Whidbey led the 16-team field during the early rounds, despite fielding only one wrestler in most weight classes.

By the semi-finals, South Whidbey trailed behind Puyallup, a 4A school with about 1,700 students.

“To be in first place for a while, then to be in second place in the afternoon, was pretty cool,” Thompson said.

“It’s the best we’ve done in a tournament in a long time,” Thompson added.

South Whidbey hosts a state-ranked Cedarcrest squad Thursday, Jan. 13. Last year, the Falcons barely scored as a team, and were almost shut out.

“It’s going to be really tough,” Thompson said.

The Falcons have a short window of rest. The entire team will travel to Mill Creek on Saturday for the Everett Classic.

Hosted by the Everett High School wrestling team, the tournament will be at Jackson High School, also in the Everett School District, due to a scheduling mistake. There is both a varsity and a junior varsity tournament.

“I want to see kids placing,” Thompson said. “It’s a very tough tournament. There’s no reason why some of these kids can’t place in that tournament.”

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